Review of The Winery Restaurant
Is the Winery the Best Restaurant in The O.C?
This blog post is about “The Winery” restaurant in Tustin, quite possibly the best restaurants in Orange County. I know this is a big claim, so I will tell my story and you be the judge. I normally provide the total score of the restaurant at the end of the review, but this time I will provide it up front. Total Score: 4.75 out of 5.
Let me attempt to explain and justify to you, my readers, why they deserve this score. I have been to The Winery on two separate occasions; this post will cover both experiences. The first time we visited, our friend Peggy treated us for a Birthday dinner and the second time we visited using a GroupOn. Both experiences were fantastic.
Exterior and the Lobby
The Winery is located in Tustin, in “The District” shopping center, just off Jamboree. The exterior of the restaurant looks really cool at night, with splashes lighting casting shadows over the flagstone accented walls. Overall, the restaurant looks very elegant and inviting from the outside. When you drive up to the restaurant, you have your choice of using the Valet for $5 or literally parking it yourself in the same parking lot. My recommendation to the Gentlemen, if you Lady is wearing high-heels don’t be a cheap-ass and use the valet. With that said, my wife tends to wear sensible shoes and I have always found a parking spot less than 100 feet away. To each his own.
When you walk into the restaurant you are first struck by the richness of the interior design with dark woods, dim lighting and leather. Although the design is sophisticated, the ambiance is very inviting and even cozy. One of the first things you notice in the lobby are the personal wine lockers. These wine lockers are available for customers who pre-purchase two cases of wine a year from the restaurant. The lockers even bear the owner’s name, with an engraved plaque. On the other side of the lobby is one of the two private dining rooms.
Dining Room Options
When you walk past the lobby, the restaurant is split into three distinct sections, each with their own ambiance, the main dining room, the Chef’s Tables and the bar. The first time we dined at the Winery we decided to sit in the Chef’s Tables, which is a small section of tables in front of the kitchen. Since The Winery uses an open kitchen design, you can watch the Chefs cook and see the dishes come out of the pass while you dine on your own meal.
This area is more relaxed upbeat vibe than the dining room, as you are sitting in the heart of the restaurant. Sitting at the Chef’s tables is like listening to the hum of the beehive, you can get a sense for the mood of the restaurant based on activity of the kitchen. As a guest of the Chef’s table, you have the unique experience of having the Chef personally keeping an eye on your table and personally timing your dishes. The only thing I would add at the Chef’s table is either angled mirrors or video camera/monitors so that you can watch the Chef’s knife skills in action.
The second time we dined at “The Winery Restaurant”, we sat in the main dining room, which is a very elegant and relaxing environment. This dining room has plenty of seating with large over-stuffed booths and 4-6 person tables. The booth was comfortable and afforded a view of the overall dining room, yet provided a sufficient level of privacy for an intimate date.
Soon after we were settled into our seats, our waiter appeared and welcomed us to the restaurant. We told him that this was our first time at The Winery Restaurant, so he took his time to explain the restaurant, the menu and even shared some interesting facts about the restaurant. Our waiter, Chris Burns, had the right blend of professionalism and personable demeanor that made us feel welcome like we were visiting his personal home and wanted to ensure that his guests were being well provided for.
What Chris did right is allow his personality to shine through the professional waiter veneer, this delicate blend of professional and personable attitude goes a long way to a great dining experience. By the time Chris left the table, he was able to gather what type of food we liked, wine preferences and that we were celebrating birthdays. What was unique about his approach is that he learned these facts not by asking direct questions, but rather by engaging us with normal communication and a warm smile. This art of conversation is a learned talent that only the best waiters have mastered.
When we came to The Winery for the second time, we requested the same waiter when we made the reservation. Although since we were running late and Chris’s shift was ending, we were assigned another waitress. Despite this situation, Chris stayed past his shift to ensure he introduced us to our waitress and explained our food and wine preferences to her based on our last visit (impressive). This is an example of professionalism and excellence in service.Aside from the service provided by the waiter, the restaurant’s Managing Partner, JC Clow, visited our table to check if we needed anything, checking on the quality of our meals and even chat about wine and cooking techniques.
During out second visit, service Captain, “Spike”, recognized us from a previous visit and greeted us into the Winery like we were returning home from a long trip. During our visit, he came to visit several times including once to tidy up our table between courses and answer all my questions about the preparation of the dishes. His knowledge of the product was impressive, as if Chef Goetz personally gave him midnight cooking lessons.
The wine selection at The Winery restaurant was impressive, as it should since it bears that name. The wine menu was essentially the size of a Tolstoy novel and read like a lesson on the Geography of wine. The restaurant literally has its own wine cellars with capacity for 5,000 bottles of wine! When I chatted with the Master Sommelier, Will Lewis, he indicated that the cellar is temperature controlled and spans 800 square feet.
I peeked inside the cellar and it was really impressive with its high ceilings, red mahogany racks, marble countertops, stone flooring and hanging chandeliers. The whole look made me feel like I was in the wine cellar of a French Château. The wine list was organized by region and type and featured both new and old world wines. A couple of personal observations on the wine list is that the Sommelier included great wines from regions that do not typically receive a lot of play. The list also featured wines at every price level from very high-end wines to some exceptional value selections for casual drinking.
The first time we dined there, we selected one of the cheaper bottles of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from the Wine List, although the Sommelier came out to apologize that our selection had run out. Instead of telling us to make another selection, he offered us a higher priced bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, with the same flavor profile and PRICE as our original selection. This is a great example of phenomenal service and a restaurant taking ownership of their mistakes and actively working to ensure that the customer’s needs were satisfied.
Will Lewis explained the tasting notes to us as he poured and explained that South African Sauvignon Blanc tends to have the same mineral and apple/peach notes as New Zealand’s Marlborough region. If you visit The Winery, I highly encourage you to chat with their Master Sommelier and Wine Director, Will Lewis ; I guarantee he will find you a wine that matches your meal, preference and budget. Then again, if you sit there long-enough, Will will great you at the table with his big-smile.
Yes I have spent significant time talking about the ambiance and service, as they are the basic pillars of a great dining experience; although enough of the foreplay, let’s talk about the food! Like I previously stated, I have included dishes from both of our experiences, so be ready for quite a few mouth-watering descriptions.
The Cheese Plate came with three cheeses Tomme D’Savoie, Laura Chanel, and a Double Cream Brie. The cheese plate came paired with candied walnuts, grapes, currants, honey and a decorative drizzles of balsamic. The first cheese Tome de Savoie is a variety of Tomme cheese from the town of Savoie in the Rhone-Alpes region of France. It is a cow’s milk cheese that is mild and semi firm. The Cheese has beige interior and a brown-grew rind. This type of cheese typically has a lower fat content as a result of it being made from making butter and rich cheeses. It was pleasant and creamy and paired perfect with the almonds and honey.
The second cheese was a Laura Chanel, which is a French style cheese produced locally from California sheep. This cheese has a milder flavor due to the low stress lifestyle of the goats, compliments of the pleasant Southern California weather. The last cheese was a double-cream brie (I didn’t get the name of the producer), but it was soft creamy and lovely and paired especially well with the currants and walnuts. All three cheeses were pleasant and paired well with our Shannon Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. This dish received 4.25 out of 5, although amazing selections, a higher score could have been earned if additional sides were provided to accompany the cheese.
Calamari Appetizer consisted of strips of the calamari’s body section, which are dusted in an almond accented powder and deep-fried light golden brown. The almond powder added richness and nuttiness to the flavor of this classic dish. The flavor of the calamari flesh was pleasantly mild, while still retaining the classic fried squid flavor. The calamari was accompanied by a marinated (almost pickled) cucumber salad. The cucumber salad had a light and bright vinegar brine, which refreshed the palate between bites of the lush calamari. For dipping, there was a “Spicy Tomato and Saffron Aioli Sauce”. The flavor of the sauce was rich; yet, the sauce was bright on the palate from the acidity of the tomato and zing from the chilies. The sauce by itself was a great execution of flavors. This dish received a 4 of 5. This dish would have received a higher score, but the crust was just a tad on the soft side for my preference, although I maintain that the flavor was delicious.
Santa Barbara Heirloom Tomatoes consisted of layers of fresh cut red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, with alternating slices of Burrata cheese. The dish was topped with micro arugula, lemon olive oil and aged balsamic. These tomatoes were locally grown in Santa Barbara, less than a 3 hour drive from the farm. As a result of using local produce, the natural flavors of the heirloom tomatoes were dominate on my palate. The salt and cream from the Burrata accentuated and balanced the acidity of the tomatoes. The arugula added a savory nutty flavor, which tied the individual ingredients into a well-constructed dish. Our server, Chris, even brought out a flavored salt selection to add to the tomato dish. I selected the wine infused salt, which added a wine/oak subtlety to the flavor profile. This was a simple, yet fresh an exciting dish that utilized locally grown and organic ingredients that was ripe full of flavors. This dish received a 4.5 out of 5.
The Winery House Salad consisted of baby greens, endive, candied walnuts, Roquefort cheese, red grapes, tomatoes, apples, and Dijon mustard vinaigrette. The salad had a balance of buttery, nutty and bitter flavors. The grapes and candied walnuts provided a sweet balance to the lettuce varieties and the Roquefort Cheese created a layer of salty creaminess to the dish. The Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette bound all the flavors together by adding a sweet tangy mustard vinegar flavor to the party. Although just a salad, this dish became the talk of the table. This dish received 4 out of 5.
Seared Ahi Tower consists of seared Ahi slices stacked atop thin wedges of fresh avocado, mango and julienned and pickled cucumber. This dish was then drizzled with a cilantro orange vinaigrette and crowned with micro-greens. Presentation wise, this dish was sexy and qualifies as food porn, as I just wanted to stare at it. I spread out the tuna over the plate and let it sit in its own juices. I was sure to add a little of the cucumber and avocado to the mix as well, ensuring that I got the full treatment. The Tuna was seared a perfect 1/8 inch on all sides of the loin. The smoky and peppery flavor paired nicely with the smooth and delicate pink Ahi flesh.. The mango and pickled cucumber added a refreshing contrast with its sweet vinegary cilantro orange sauce. This dish received 4.5 out of 5 for great balance of flavors, while allowing the natural flavors of the Ahi to be enjoyed.
Chili Lime rubbed Mahi-Mahi consisted of Hawaiian Mahi-Mahi, atop jasmine rice with roasted pistachio, accompanied by a lemon grass Gewürztraminer butter sauce and garnished with tropical fruit chutney. This was one of the most remarkable dishes to come out of Chef Goetz’s kitchen, as it masterfully combined the right blend of ingredients, textures and flavors in each bite.
Let me start by describing with the main ingredient, the Hawaiian Mahi-Mahi. This fish has dense white meat with a mild and slightly sweet flavor. The Mahi-Mahi was marinated with a chili powder, lime juice and possibly olive oil; my guess is that the fish was marinated for several hours, as the flavors soaked into the flesh. The Mahi-Mahi was then grilled on what appears to be high-heat, as evidenced by the nice char lines. This technique helps to lock in the natural juices in the meat, thus retaining its natural flavor. The Jasmine rice was soft and supple and had beautiful aromatics from ginger root, cilantro and sweet onion. Around the plate and soaked into the perimeter of the rice was the Gewürztraminer sauce, which literally gave me the “O Face” when I tried it for the first time. This sauce uses a classic French saucing technique that utilized reduced wine and butter. Since Chef Goetz is from the Alace region of France (near the German Border), it is obvious that his roots influence him to use a sweeter wine native to that region called Gewürztraminer. The Wine appears to have been reduced down with the lemon grass stalk and the adding the butter to create a sweet and savory sauce that truly is like a sexy hug in the mouth. On top of the fish is a tropical fruit chutney containing pan caramelized pineapple, papaya, mango, onion and bell peppers with an agave syrup. The flavor is a balanced sweetness that gives you full mouth sweetness, without overpowering the palate with sugar. The individual components of this dish were delicious as I picked them off the plate to taste them on their own merit, although together, the flavors were simply amazing. The sweet and smoky chili flavor of the fish created a nice contrast with the sweet, savory sauce. The sweet cream sauce mellowed the chili spiciness and the chili added a very subtle smoky zing to the sweet butter sauce that cut its richness. The sweetness of the chutney also served to balance this dish by adding cool tropical flavors to both the sauce and the Mahi-Mahi. The aromatic rice acted as a stabilizer between the flavors, adding a common thread of consistency to each bite. This dish also had a perfect balance of textures, from the slightly crispy exterior of the fish contracted with the smoothness of the sauce, together creating a pleasant tongue feel of smooth and crisp. The fruit chutney also provided a slight crunch and the roasted pistachio around the plate provided a playful diversion of textures to the overall texture of each fork full. This dish was amazing and I would order it often as I can afford. I am giving it a rare 5 out of 5 for freshness, flavor, originality, use of fresh ingredients and overall presentation. I was also very impressed with his fusion of Hawaiian based recipe with classical French technique.
USDA Prime All Natural Grain Fed Flat Iron Steak – Aged 21-28 days –First of all for those who are unfamiliar as to what is a Flat Iron Steak, the name reflects its shape, as it looks like an old fashion flat iron. This cut of meat comes from the shoulder of the cow and is flavorful and relatively tender.When the dish came to my table, I saw a nice flat iron steak with asparagus and fluffy mashed potatoes. The plating was elegant with the mashed potatoes propping up the steak, asparagus flaring out and drizzled with steak drippings and a decorative splash of the cilantro sauce.
The steak was very tender and juicy and I could taste the natural beef flavors of the steak in each bite. The flat iron Steak somewhat reminds me of a new York Strip Steak, with a slightly firmer texture, although equally tender. When I bit into the steak it was juicy and full of flavor, similar to a steak that was cooked on the bone. This steak was a pleasure to eat. The mashed potatoes were obviously made with love; and as my foodie fans know, love comes in the form of butter. These mashed potatoes were light and fluffy and had hints of black truffle. The asparagus was fresh bright green hue and a slight crush when I ate them. This dish received a 4.0 out of 5.
Zinfandel Braised Beef Short Ribs Risotto was a very rich and flavorful risotto, which gains its character from the Zinfandel based sauce, shaved black truffles and slices parmesan. The base of this dish is a creamy risotto which is integrated with chunks short rib. The short rib was braised (slow cooked….think crock pot style) with Zinfandel wine, so it brings a sweet, rich and luxurious element to the flavor party. The rice in the risotto was cooked nicely, such that the texture was soft and slightly gooey, yet retained an ever so slight firmness. This texture difference makes the risotto have a pleasant mouth feel.
I picked the short rib out of the cast iron pan and discovered that very nice portion of short rib in the dish. The chunks of braised short rib were juicy and had a sweet and rich flavor of zinfandel. The meat was braised long enough so the meat fell apart along the muscle line. If I managed my spoonfuls properly, there was just enough meat to get chunk of short rib in every bite, . I personally prefer a risotto with just enough meat mix ins to leave me desiring a little bit more. To all the single guys or gals reading my blog, let me put this meat to risotto ratio balance conundrum in your language. When eating your short rib risotto, you want the short rib to appear on your fork, when you are feeling randy for some sweet meat (i.e. short rib Booty Call). Next lets consider the alternative; although you might enjoy getting some short rib when you are in the mood, you don’t want it showing up on your fork uninvited (“short rib stalker”).
Now that we understand the merits of the individual components, let analyze the overall flavor qualities of this dish. When I placed a spoonful in my mouth, the creamy richness of the sauce made from the parmesan and beef stock was comforting like a mother’s soft touch. The flavors from the Zinfandel reduction made my mouth water from the sweet and luscious flavors. Although when I bit down into the luscious black truffles, the flavor were no longer a Mother’s soft touch, but rather something a little naughty. I blushed a little as I swallowed the risotto….what would my Mother think? I am giving this dish a 4.75 for near perfect blending of ingredients into a composite dish. Extra points were given for flawless inclusion of wine into the dish.
Prime Beef Tenderloin and Wild Shrimp Napoleon with Tarragon reduction sauce with Cabernet Essence –I have one word for this dish, Amazing! This dish consists of a jumbo wild shrimp perched atop a delicate medallion of Tenderloin and supported by what appears to be a vegetable risotto. Poured over the surf and turf tower was a creamy “tarragon reduction sauce”. The dish was plated with a spoonful of “Essence of Cabernet Sauvignon sauce”.
Let me first describe the individual components that make up this “Napoleon”. Starting from the top of this dish is a wild-caught shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. The shrimp was beautifully cooked, such that it was just barely pink and slightly translucent. The texture of the shrimp was juicy and slightly firm with a slight snap on the first bite. The flavor was primarily the naturally sweet protein shrimp flavor, along with hints of butter, pepper, and white wine. The next layer of the Napoleon was the Tenderloin, which is the Hugh Jackman of steak cuts; all the ladies want a piece. This steak was tender and extremely easy to cut with a butter knife. It was so tender in fact, that I was able to cut it atop a pile of risotto without disturbing the risotto’s mound. Per my request, the tenderloin was perfectly cooked, pink throughout the center and dripping with natural juices. The flavor of the steak was heaven, with the natural beef flavors taking center stage. The next element is the vegetable risotto, which was creamy and had a pleasant alternating texture of firm softness from the rice and crunchiness of sweated vegetables. The tarragon reduction sauce had a pleasant aromatic quality and flavors similar to anise, fresh cream and pan renderings. This was a dish that was well executed on the individual ingredient basis and well composed as a dish. I am giving this dish a 4.5 out of 5.
Seared Alaskan Hallibut was a lovely dish that consisted of a pan seered filet of Alaskan Halibut sitting atop “Housemade Cabernet linguine”, sautéed wild mushrooms and a red wine reduction sauce. This dish was also garnished with endamame, kalamata olives and micro-greens. The Halibut was seared on a high heat (obviously with a little butter), to create a perfect crusty golden brown seer. The flavor of the halibut was pleasantly mild with a slight hint of butter and had a firm and flakey texture. The mouth feel was a combination of juicy moistness and a crisp tongue feel. Since the Cabernet linguine was house made so it was extremely fresh tasting, tender and had a subtle hint of red wine. When I broke apart of portion of the halibut with my fork, it gently flaked apart and exposed its juicy white flesh. I took a fork full of all the ingredients and bit down into it, the flavors delicately combined to give a very comforting flavor of sweetness, fruit, oak., butter, nutty mushrooms and delicate fish proteins . The sweet buttery flavor of the halibut served as the a canvas for the flavors of the wine in the reduction, mushrooms and linguine to paint a playful mosaic and sweet and savory flavors. This was a remarkable dish with a perfect balance of flavors and textures, not to mention it was beautifully plated. This dish received a 4.5 out of 5.
Desserts – I am not a big dessert person, so I am not going to give you a big description of each. With that said, I manage to eat my own dessert and had a wandering spoon that made its way to everyone else’s dessert. I single handedly ate most of the deserts on the table.
White Peach, Blueberry and Almond Cobbler– This dessert cooked White Peaches and blueberries in a cast iron pan and covered it with an almond infused flaky cobbler crust and adorned with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. This dessert had an awesome blend of cream and acidity. Creamy textures and crunch. Score: 4.5 out of 5
Mango-Chocolate Chip Crème Brule This timeless custard dish was infused with puree of Mango and a some chocolate chips, giving this dish a fresh taste. At first the table was like, ” ehhh another creme brule…”, although when it came out everyone was like “ohhhhhhh… I should have gotten that!” Needless to say, this dish got around and everyone had their turn spooning it. The dessert was topped with fresh fruit and a delicious Chocolate cookie. This dish received a 4.25 out of 5.
Valhrona Chocolate Duo- This dish is a duo of chocolate bites that features Valhorona chocolate, which is a luxury chocolate manufacturer in the wine growing region of Lyon in France. This dessert pays homage to this chocolate in the form of two different deserts. The first was a rich and creamy pudding mouse and the other was a sweet brioche bun stuffed with a chocolate mouse. As a bonus, the dessert included a chocolate covered strawberry. Score 4.5 out of 5.
My Final Thoughts
As I previously mentioned, this review is based on two separate visits so I feel comfortable saying that this just might be the best restaurant in Orange County and among the elite in Southern California. The food is remarkable and some of the more creative and delicious dishes I have experienced. What separates The Winery’s Dishes from other restaurants is Chef Goetz flawless integration of Classical Cooking Techniques with modern cuisine and subtle use of fusion flavors. In addition, the ingredients used by the Chef’s staff were extremely fresh, vibrant and obviously of a higher quality. This restaurant pulls together the right elements of unexpected excellence in service with high-end dishes to create a memorable dining experience. When I give a restaurant a very high score (anything over 4.5), it means that I am actively talking about the restaurant with friends a couple of days ahead of time and contemplating what I am going to order in the car on the way to the restaurant. If the experience lived up to my expectations I am talking about the restaurant on the way home and Blogging about it later that week. Simple moments of personal joy and food rapture is all it takes to help take us out of our daily routine and make each of us feel like everything is right in the world. My personal congratulations to the Staff at the Winery for a well-deserved overall score of 4.75 out of 5, I am already planning my next visit.
The Winery’s Website: www.thewineryrestaurant.net
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